This is the year of my spiritual awakening.
The year where my soul screamed out, aching for connection. The year where, despite my usual mutterings and logic, I dragged myself to church, looking for…something.
Something I have been pretty sure didn’t exist.
Let’s talk about signs for a minute. As a skeptical person myself, the idea of God giving me a sign always seemed a little…hard to believe. And yet, I could not deny this pull that I was feeling to just go to church and see what might happen.
As I was struggling with this confusing desire, I met a friend one night. Over a bottle of wine, I updated her on all of the tales of my woes–marriage problems, anxiety, depression, counseling, you name it. Then, because I know her well and my lack of belief was not hidden from her, I explained how I wished I could be, “like one of those religious people who just give it all away to God. Wouldn’t that be such a relief?”
She told me all about her church–how amazing it is, how much she loves it, how it is such a good fit for her and her family and their beliefs (which are very close to my own). Funny enough, her church was one of two on my list of “acceptable” churches–if I ever decided to go.
The desire did not go away. The need to reach out to something greater than myself–to find a community–continued to grow, especially as I found myself working through some of the harder stuff in my past during my counseling sessions. I couldn’t let go of that same thought–wouldn’t it be such a comfort to be able to rely on more than myself?
Finally, I went to church. The world did not stop.
I was confused.
How could I ever fit my beliefs back into the little box of religion? How could I–a person who had been so turned off by the lack of acceptance, lack of inclusivity, re-enter this world? Could I really make myself believe these things, and remain authentic; or, was I just going to fake it and try to fit in?
I kept thinking of the words–suspension of disbelief. I learned the term a long time ago in an elements of theater class. It referred to the way that audience members suspend their disbelief and willingly believe the unbelievable–like the play they are watching–because it is enjoyable. Religion, for me, would require me to suspend my need for fact, proof…certainty.
But, suspension of disbelief is not the same thing as belief…right?
Again, I called on my friend. I expressed this confusion to her. I remember saying, I feel like people rely on religion for a comfort. We are afraid of dying and simply ceasing to exist, so we create religion to make us feel better. It does…but that doesn’t make it real.
Her response: Maybe the fact that we are designed with that need to find comfort, to seek it out, is a sign that there is something out there greater than us.
I had never thought about it that way.
She told me I should talk to the Priest (he’s Episcopalian) at church. She assured me that he was open-minded, safe, and just generally kind of awesome.
…I was not yet convinced. I did not want to be trapped in a situation that might make me commit to something I was not ready to commit to.
At my counseling session that week, I finally poured out my fears about religion. I’ve said it before, but thank God for my amazing counselor–I was so fearful of judgment–but all I got from her was acceptance. And a push to accept and clarify my own beliefs.
And…ironically, she knew the Priest. She mentioned that I could talk to him. He was safe–not pushy, open-minded. Sound familiar?
Still…I don’t know. I wasn’t ready. Saturday night, I went for a walk to clear my head. Should I even go to church again the next day? Was it worth all of the confusion? I was pondering all of these thoughts when I noticed a couple walking a dog approaching from the oncoming direction. As I moved over to let them walk by, I hear “Wait a minute!” Sure enough…I walked right into Father M and his wife.
Our conversation ended with, “See you at church tomorrow!”
So, I went to church the next day. And in the weeks, and months, after.
Finally, a few weeks ago, I felt brave enough to send an email, asking Father M if he might have some time to talk about things.
I took a leap of faith. I was tired of feeling confused.
Our talk went nothing like I feared it might go. In fact, I am still processing a lot of what we discussed–for instance…I can decide my beliefs. I can explore and decide what God is for me, in this moment. What he is for me, doesn’t have to match what he is for someone else.
These were seriously eye-opening, breath-stealing ideas.
Today, a week after our talk, I sat in service again, and listened to the the sermon. Father M is an amazing public speaker. On a normal day, it is impossible to not listen to him. He is full of energy, animated, funny. Really, he is not at all the kind of minister that puts you to sleep–which I was so used to. His sermons wake you up. Enliven and energize.
But today. Today, as I listened to him, I found myself relating whole-heartedly to his sermon. He began to talk about his own journey, the struggle between wanting to be a good Christian and the struggle between believing that everything in the Bible really happened. (Like, did Jonah really live in a whale for three days…really?) In that moment, he said, as crazy as it sounds, God gave him three words:
Suspend your disbelief.
My eyes filled with tears. Suspend your disbelief? Did he really just use those words? …Those were the words I had been using. Struggling with.
Here it was, a very clear message–let go of my need for certainty. Follow my heart where it leads. Relax.
I really couldn’t believe it. I blinked back my tears as we moved on from the sermon and stood up to offer Peace to those around me. Father M walked up, shook my hand, and said,
That one was for you.
Signs…all I can say is WOW.
Do I magically believe? No…but I now give myself permission to just be. To search and discover and grow.